The Shack
dir Stuart Hazeldine
prd Brad Cummings, Gil Netter
scr John Fusco, Andrew Lanham, Destin Cretton
with Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Tim McGraw, Radha Mitchell, Avraham Aviv Alush, Sumire, Alice Braga, Graham Greene, Megan Charpentier, Gage Munroe, Amelie Eve, Ryan Robbins
release US 3.Mar.17, UK 9.Jun.17
17/US Summit 2h12
The Shack
Cooking with God: Worthington and Spencer

mitchell braga greene
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The Shack The flaws in William P Young's viral bestseller are magnified exponentially in this movie adaptation, which revels in the parable's simplistic metaphors and sunshiny religiosity rather than going for something honest or challenging. In other words, the film is the definition of preaching to the choir, as only audience members who already believe in its fundamental mythology will be able to stomach it.

In the Pacific Northwest, Mack (Worthington) has a happy family with wife Nan (Mitchell) and three kids: teens Kate and Josh (Charpentier and Munroe) and adorable 7-year-old Missy (Eve). Then on a camping trip, Missy is kidnapped and presumed murdered. Several years later, the family has self-destructed in grief when Mack receives a letter calling him to the shack where Missy's bloodied clothes were found. It's signed "Papa", Missy's name for God. And in the shack, Mack meets Papa (Spencer), her Middle Eastern carpenter son (Alush) and the spiritual Asian Sarayu (Sumire).

Mack's magical trip to the shack is played as a vision in which every element has biblical meaning that stubbornly refuses to run deeper than the surface. Director Hazeldine makes everything look pretty and utterly fake. There's a messy garden that actually has a pattern to it. There's a spot of walking on the water. There's a cave in which Wisdom (Braga) forces Mack to make a horrible choice. And to round out the ethnicities, Papa becomes a Native American (Greene) at one point.

With everything so on the nose, there's little the cast can make of the dialog. The likeable Worthington isn's a very complex actor, and this script leaves him unarmed. He does what he can to convey Mack's wrenching journey, but there's never a sense that what he's experiencing is real. Spencer is warm and witty and oddly innocuous, in need of even a hint of an edge. McGraw ponders harmlessly on the sideline as Mack's neighbour, who inexplicably narrates the story.

The situation and characters are all intriguing, but without somewhere clever to go or a more inventive approach to the themes, the movie merely feels preachy and gimmicky. There's a powerful idea in here about self-forgiveness, but it's hammered so forcefully that the noise drowns it out. People already leaning into this kind of story may find themselves challenged to be more sensitive to those around them. But anyone with an analytical or cynical way of thinking will find the movie very nearly unbearable.

cert 12 themes, violence 3.Apr.17

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